Russian Literature – Sentimentality and pre-romanticism

Sentimentality and pre-romanticism

The European political events of the last part of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, and in particular Russia’s campaign of 1812, aroused new intellectual and political energies in the country. A. Radiščev, sent to Leipzig by Catherine II to complete his studies, comes into contact with the ideas that will pave the way for the French Revolution. His Putešestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu (“Journey from Petersburg to Moscow”, 1790), published anonymously, who owes his technique in part to L. Sterne, tries to apply the ideas of law and social justice to Russia and describes the horrors of serfdom. The work, considered dangerous, cost the author exile in Siberia until the end of Catherine’s reign. Radiščev is also a good poet and author of poor sentimentals, responding to the rapid change in literary sensibility. ● The translations of Pamela (1740) and Clarissa Harlowe (1747-48) of S. Richardson, of Tristram Shandy (1760-67) and of the Sentimental journey (1768) of Sterne, of the Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) by J.-J. Rousseau, from the Leiden des jungen Werthers by JW Goethe (1774), from the Ossian songs and other works of European pre-romanticism, now accessible to the Russian public shortly after the original publication. The problem arises of creating a language suitable for the new era and new literary genres; about a century after the first attempts to codify the Russian literary language, the controversy between ‘archaists’ and ‘innovators’ reopens. The archaist A. Shiškov (18th-19th century) sees the peculiarity of literary Russian in its link with Church Slavonic, fights the confusion between literary and spoken language, argues that Church Slavic and Russian are actually the same language in its ‘elevated’ and ‘simple’ expressions. The innovator N. Karamzin, on the other hand, invites us to eliminate the learned Slavic words, to write as we speak, orienting ourselves on the colloquial language of the elite intellectual, influenced by French and other European languages. ● A number of literary circles are formed: the Beseda ljubitelej russkogo sloga (“Conversation of lovers of the Russian word”, 1811-16), which meets at Deržavin and gathers Shiškov’s supporters, and the light-hearted and informal Arzamas, of opposite orientation. The former includes, among others, I. Krylov who, after writing some plays and trying to revive satirical journalism, finds his best vein in a very popular genre between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of Nineteenth century: the fairytale. Krylov’s fables, inspired by J. de La Fontaine but deeply rooted in Russian reality, are enormously successful: their satire without violence, the morality dictated by bourgeois common sense, the ironic and lively writing, the original language, nourished by popular sayings and proverbs, they are liked by contemporaries. ● The literary personality that best summarizes the new trends that emerge in the passage from one century to another is, however, that of Karamzin, a man of cosmopolitan culture, open to that new type of sensitivity that takes the name of sentimentality. The work that wins the greatest popularity in Karamzin and marks an important stage in the formation of modern fiction is Bednaja Liza (“La povera Liza”, 1792), a tearful story of a seduced and abandoned girl, in full harmony with sentimental taste. Karamzin himself will then overcome sentimentality in his latest works, also using the tones of irony and sarcasm in Moja ispoved  ´ («My confession», 1802).

The post-Soviet period

From the 1990s onwards, the authors (such as V. Sorokin) who with gory or marginal arguments compete with the detective stories and the paraliterature are flanked by poets and storytellers of different generations who continue the reflection, typical of the Russian tradition, on great historical problems or on intimate spiritual experiences. V. Pelevin in highly successful works such as Omon Ra (1992) and Generation ‘P’ (1999) revisits the most absurd and grotesque aspects of Soviet and post-Soviet daily life in a fantastic way. To remember the writer L. Ulickaja, who with the short novel Sonečka (1992) achieved unanimous acclaim in the West. In the field of commercial literature, the phenomenon of the writer A. Marinina must be noted, who during the 1990s enjoyed extraordinary success with the public with her detective stories. In the second half of the decade, the most refined detective novels with a historical background by B. Akunin (pseudonym of G. Tchkhartichvili) stand out, among which Azazel (1998; trans. It. The winter queen, 2000) and Tureckij gambit ( 1998; Italian translation. Turkish Gambit, 2000), and the yellow-black novels, tinged with irony, by D. Doncova. In the panorama of poetry, alongside authors such as E. Rejn, who continue the traditional ways of Russian opera, a pleiad of experimenters was born (the criticism spoke of minimalism, conceptualism, soc-art, postmodernism, etc.), among which it is worth mentioning L. Rubinstejn, M. Ajzenberg, T. Kibirov, as well as the most important figure, the conceptualist D. Prigov.

Russian Literature - Sentimentality and pre-romanticism

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